Some years ago, I read Anne Rice’s book in her vampire series titled “The Tale of the Body Thief.” The vampire Lestat gets lonely and tired of being a vampire and switches bodies with a human character. Much of the book describes Lestat’s struggle to take care of the basic needs of a human body, something he had not learned as a vampire. There is always something that needs attending to – eating, sleeping, staying warm and dry, social connection, etc. He finds attending to his body exhausting and endless. Lestat was lacking body intelligence, what Jim Gavin and I wrote about in our IDEA Fitness Journal article.
Jim and I were inspired by Dan Goleman’s frameworks for emotional intelligence and social intelligence and proposed that body intelligence, or BQ, address three elements:
Awareness How aware are you of your body’s needs? Knowledge How much do you know on how to meet your body’s needs? Engagement How engaged are you in meeting your body’s needs?
Let’s have a closer look.
The body continually sends you signals on its state – optimal or suboptimal and once in a while OPTIMAL. Sometimes it’s a whisper – you strain a muscle slightly, and sometimes it’s a shout – a fierce headache after a stressful week. Sometimes it's a pleasant energy boost. I’m reminded of what functional medicine pioneer Jeffrey Bland describes as the J-curve. A dose of something that is too low is unhealthy, and then there is an optimal dose – a rather narrow range. Everything above that dose is also unhealthy. It’s important to pay attention to the optimal dose for your body – not too little and not too much. Examples? The optimal dose:
of caffeine makes you more alert without jitters. of exercise improves your mood without straining or exhausting your muscles of wine brings a glow without any hangover of sleep helps your brain be productive and creative of higher purpose drives you to accomplish more without excessive strain
We often miss or ignore the signals – failing to ask – what is my body saying, trying to tell me? The body has a voice that communicates through sensations - tightness or pain or tension or nervousness, or a welcome warm glow. Taking a few moments to do a body scan as you make a decision that impacts your body - any activity, and its dose – movement, sitting, eating, drinking, relaxing – helps you tune into what’s optimal. I learned a trick from an allergist who is skilled in de-escalating risky allergies, like peanuts. In my case with gluten intolerance that comes with celiac genes, I need an early warning. Here's the technique she teaches kids:
Stand barefoot with eyes closed. Put the substance next to your chest area and take a few deep breaths. The body will sway forward if the substance is safe, backward if not.
Not scientific but worth a try given the paucity of approaches to decrease allergic reactivity.
Human genes and physiology are a complex matter made more challenging as the body interacts with the environment over a lifespan. Scientific studies generate a bell curve to support guidelines. Many of us are outliers, not average. Hence, finding one’s optimal set of habits requires continuous experimentation…
what’s the right mix - of macronutrients like lean protein, healthful fat, and complex carbs, of menu choices and portions – that deliver the energy you need without weight gain what combination of exercise activities fits your preferences, talents, and interests what habit combo helps you get to sleep and stay that way for at least 7 hours what daily emotional habits keep you calm and resilient
This complexity is one reason that working with a coach is a gift that keeps on giving as you become a better self-scientist, adept in decoding and understanding your optimal lifestyle.
Even a good level of body awareness (reading your body’s signals well) and body knowledge (knowing what your optimal way of life looks like), aren’t worth much if you don’t translate them into daily action. This is where it’s helpful to understand one’s readiness to change, the balance of pros and cons, or motivation and challenges. It’s worth reflecting on why the habits matter, how they help you have the life you want to lead. It’s also important to get creative – finding novel solutions that jump the bumps in the road as they pop up.
Now it’s your turn. What’s your BQ – on a scale of 1 to 10?
Body awareness? Body knowledge? Body engagement?
Want to increase your BQ and help others do the same? Wellcoaches and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine just launched a lifestyle medicine course, for coaches and everyone who wants to improve their body intelligence.
Beats being a vampire struggling in a human body.
Onward and upward.